Health

Your plate, not myPlate. – Yemariam Eyob

Disclaimer: I write from experience and not expertise.

I have beef with myPlate. However, I am not interested in discrediting the positive intention or impact of the initiative and those like it. My only aim is to recognize that it is not inclusive.

Anytime something is not inclusive and spread to the masses as truth, a guideline by which good people live their life, it is dangerous.

Food politics shape our health. From birth to death, your dietary practices are influenced by a variety of factors such as your socio-economic status, cultural identity, and the national agenda of the country you live in.

Surely, there is a science behind what foods we should all eat to maintain nutritional balance. Whether those foods are accessible or culturally appropriate is the blind spot that I want to address.

The myPlate graphic from the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov

There are some things that myPlate does that I admire. For example, there are no pictures on the diagram so that we aren’t placing a single image or understanding of a healthy meal — which let’s be honest, it would just have been what people of color refer to as “white people foods” and maybe some things that we recognize such as bread or something.

I’m still not sure if this necessarily constitutes as inclusion because it seems like the mapped out myPlate and then realized that this might be problematic. Inclusion is a little more than that. People should be able to express and exist as their authentic selves within policies and programs. When examining other parts of the program, we can clearly see that this is not true for myPlate.

The assumption that people will drop the foods that have been so closely integrated into their identity is unreasonable. To add to that, it is erasure of an experience. That’s why African Americans eat chitlins. That’s why Ethiopians eat kitfo. That’s also why it was so hard for the non-white members of my track team in high school struggled to eat stop eating hot chips while in season.

Which brings me to the part I have a distaste for. The focus of myPlate is to promote that at least half of your plate consists of vegetables and fruits. Don’t get me wrong, I love vegetables and I love fruit but I don’t appreciate the pressure.

Food security is privilege based on racism and classism in this country. Colored people, and especially black people, eat differently than white people. Poor people eat differently than rich people.

Many Americans do not even have access to a full-service grocery store. Which makes the most accessible, safest space for them to obtain food a corner store. This is no surprise as the most accurate indicator of someone’s health is their zip code.

That’s the other thing, safe spaces. People are less likely to shop in places where they are being watched or being perceived as less than. Which is what we see when they build a Whole Foods in predominately poor, black communities in Chicago.

Finally, many of these people are working with monthly food stamps. This gives you about a dollar and a half per person for each meal. What fruits and vegetables can you buy with that?

Mothers want their kids to sleep on a full stomach and if processed, boxed mac-n-cheese can do that then that’s what’s going to happen.

For some of us, it is not about health because it is about survival.

So, growing up, I would say that my parents and other immigrant parents unintentionally found a loophole to all of this — for the most part.

Through having a vast menu of cultural foods that incorporate various nutrients and bringing over preparation skills from their home country, Ethiopia, we were able to eat very well for a low price. Probably because the ingredients aren’t really recognized by western culture, we had access to important foods from other people in our own community, small ethnic stores, and even the motherland.

I mean, the day before any Ethiopian or Eritrean comes back to America, it is customary to bring bags of spices and foods in a separate luggage — all the way from Africa, to dispense to all of your parent’s favorite people.

So, I did have access to healthy food — but not the kind that they wanted me to have.

When I was in elementary, middle, and high school, I did the unforgivable. I brought my habesha food to school! Yikes. The funny part is that I tried it almost every year. PB&J every day was NOT cutting it for little me!

After getting tired of hearing squeals of,

“EwWwWwW, WHAT IS THAT?” and “WHAT’S THAT SMELL??”

from my classmates, I just resorted to eating in the hallway until the janitor sent me back to the cafeteria. Once, I even ate in the bathroom.

This is now a source of humor for my fellow habesha diaspora and I. We bond over how creative the other kids at school with what we thought was delicious food. Dog food. Crap.

Yeah, it was bad.

Anyways, I just think about all of those years that I went undernourished simply because I wanted to fit in. This extends to our parents adjusting the foods they buy at home too. Oh and my favorite thing I heard from my aunts and uncles, “My child doesn’t eat our food, they’re American.” How awful?

American children are malnourished. Truth be told, all of that ‘America the Great’ nonsense is spoon fed to people all around the world — and yet that’s all certain populations in this country are fed.

When someone is healthy, that’s good right?

In our society, a healthy person is equated with goodness. A healthy person is someone who is taking care of their responsibility to make sure we have a healthier community. They provide us herd immunity and make our world cleaner. So, what about those who are unhealthy?

Well, those would be the burdens of our society.

The narrative that people who are unable to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle are weakening our society has made us comfortable with eugenic thought.

Social, economic and political vitality, indeed, civilization itself along with its presumed protectors, were imagined to be in imminent danger of being overwhelmed by the unfit and the unhealthy.

Eugenics projected a night- mare vision of an epidemic of genetically transmitted degeneration — a reproductive triumph of lower types who would physically, mentally and morally weaken and eventually destroy the social body.

Health as a meaningful social practice
Robert Crawford University of Washington, Tacoma, USA 2006

These people are the victims of a greedy society and we’re blaming them?

By doing this, we are adding immense amounts of pressure to groups of people who are already facing all other types of discrimination. This leads to stress and overall poor health and life quality. Systems of oppression have left these communities this way and now, they are subliminally blaming them.

People are emotionally and socially damaged by not being able to fit some of these guidelines and recommendations.

If anything, our society is weakened by people who don’t think about others. People that are chained by consumerism, competition, and power. Yet, I still believe in our ability to forgive and restore the trajectory of humanity through sharing.

The only way one of us can be liberated is if all of us are. The oppressed from their oppressors. The oppressors from themselves.

Some practical solutions, and of course I don’t have all of them, would be educating communities. In addition, we need to support and protect educators, organizations, and politicians who advocate for this. This education doesn’t need to be careful but rather direct and brash — just like the situation. Transparency needs to be the precedent.

We can also use social media to challenge and redefine these guidelines. Even having these conversations with each other is important.

I only ask that after reading my thoughts on this topic, you articulate yours. In any and every way that you know how. It is our responsibility to save each other.

I can conclude with saying that I don’t believe that it is fair for unhealthy communities should feel so undesired and outcasted for things that they really have no control over, that’s all.

“Reality is wrong.” — TuPac Shakur pc: me!

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